Wednesday, January 16, 2008

America Today

US primary persuasions

One kid dreams of fame and fortune
One kid helps pay the rent
One could end up going to prison
One just might be president….
Only in America

From Brooks and Dunn

Americans want change, but what change?
"I have so many ideas for this country, I just don't want to see us fall backwards," the New York Senator Hillary Clinton said with misty eyes, choking on her words. "It's about our country, it's about our kids' futures." She promises change on the bedrock of her experience in public life and as former First Lady. "Some of us are right, some of us are wrong," she continued, regaining her self-control, referring to Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, who some thought might crush her dreams for the White House. "Some of us are ready, and some of us are not. Some of us know what we'll do on day one and some of us don't."

That was a day before the New Hampshire primary when the news media, pollsters, pundits and prognosticators, based on the results of Iowa caucuses, predicted that she would lose to Senator Obama by a wide margin; but as it turned out, the results confounded every one. She beat Senator Obama 39% to 37%, throwing the Democratic presidential nomination race wide open.

From the caucuses' results in Iowa, an almost all-white rural state frozen in a sub-zero winter and hardly an American microcosm, it seemed that caucus-goers, Republicans and Democrats, wanted some kind of change but weren't sure what they wanted, so they ended up supporting a Republican preacher and a Democratic dreamer. Democratic Iowans catapulted 46-year old Senator Obama, a first generation black American, (his Kenyan father married a white woman from Kansas), who with his youthful face, grand gestures and poetic eloquence swayed independents, women and younger people into believing that his idea of change was more potent and meaningful than his rivals' former Senator John Edwards and Senator Hillary Clinton, who got pushed down to second and third positions respectively. (Both caucuses and primaries elect delegates for a party's nomination convention, though the procedures are different. Most of the delegates are, however, elected through primaries).

In the first winnowing of candidates for Democratic nomination, the lesser known aspirants, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware and Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut got quickly sucked out of the race. Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a very affable person with long diplomatic experience, lingered on for the New Hampshire primary but then dropped out. Former Senator Edwards, a successful trial lawyer and son of a mill worker from the South, too would call it a day to return to his family to nurse his sick wife who has been suffering from breast cancer, as his campaign ideas become increasingly co-opted by his rivals and his funds and energy dissipate gradually. The epic battle for Democratic nomination will be left between Senator Obama and Senator Clinton, both well-provided with money and organizational machinery, both claiming to the agents of change in Washington, economy, Iraq and rest of the world. Some say it is going to be a contest between style and substance, talk of change and change with experience. It has to be seen how long Senator Obama's charisma endures on hopes and dreams of a new America as he moves from one primary to another; or whether Senator Clinton can break "the highest and hardest glass ceiling" in America.

Above the din of the Democrats chanting for change, there was another voice, loud and clear, "Mac is back." For Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, riding on the crest of opinion polls, the New Hampshire Republican primary was a great morale booster. He beat former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney by a decisive margin. A week before, Republican Iowan caucus-goers, especially born-again and evangelical Christians, more interested in national security, social stability, immigration and taxation, chose a Baptist preacher and former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee, a folksy down-to-earth politician with limited knowledge of the world. He trounced his nearest rival former Governor Romney, a rich man who spent millions of dollars of his own money to convince Iowans that he is a kind of born-again conservative (He changed his views on abortion, among other issue) and a good Christian, though he is a Mormon. A home grown religion, the Church of Latter Day Saints, popularly known as Mormonism, was once a polygamous community, but gave up the practice and has been gradually mainstreaming itself to look like other Christian denominations. But most Americans regard Mormons as different, albeit they accept the Bible and Jesus Christ as accoutrement to their own unique belief system. Senator McCain who scraped a third place in Iowa was Mitt Romney's main rival in the New Hampshire primary. Governor Huckabee fell by the way side, as did former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani who is pinning his hopes on a bigger prize, Florida.

One person who realizes the limit to what one can do about bringing change is Bill Clinton, who while campaigning in New Hampshire for his wife said,
What's Hillary to do? I can't make her younger, taller, male— there's a lot of things I can't do. But if you want a President and you need one, she would be by far the best." A woman becoming the president of the United States of America will be the biggest change this country will ever see since its founding. And if it so happens, Mr. Clinton will become the First Gentleman. Only in America, as they say, "Where we dream as big as we want to/We all get a chance/Everybody gets to dance."

(ND Batra is professor of communications and diplomacy at Norwich University, Vermont. He is working on a new book, This is the American Way)

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